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‘Budget’ shouldn’t mean ‘shoddy’ – what to look for in a cheap mechanical keyboard

Purchasing a budget mechanical keyboard can be a minefield. Here's what to look out for.

kailh switches

Purchasing a budget mechanical keyboard can be a minefield. There are countless unrecognisable branded boards online, and while many of them offer great value for money, others offer little more than their membrane switch siblings, or even come up short to the best non-mechanicals around.

Here are the best gaming keyboards for every budget.

We receive armfuls of keyboards through our doors for review, looking to claim a spot in our best gaming keyboards round up – yet few make the cut. Budget boards are one of the most competitive keyboard markets, and while it may seem that barebones boards would feature less variance than high-end alternatives, they arrive on our desks with huge disparities in both quality and features.

Take the Aukey mechanical keyboard for example. This budget board offers Outemu key switches in the style of Cherry MX’s god-tier blues. It’s not a half-bad imitation either. Yes, the keys are a little wobblier, and of course any keyboard connoisseur will be able to tell the difference with their eyes closed. Yet, for the gamer with a limited budget, it’s a fantastic addition to their arsenal – and most importantly it’s only $40 / £35 (even less without backlighting).

AUKEY Mechanical Keyboard

On the flip side, you have the board I’m typing on currently, the Enhance GX-K3, available for $30. This board features unrecognisable ‘hybrid mechanical’ keys that feel as stodgy as a membrane matured for 16-years in a dusty office. It doesn’t help that the backspace key has also been shaved down to a single key, making working on this board a mistyping bonanza. Below the lazily placed, off-centre Enhance sticker are arrow keys that feature the WASD key labels. While maybe indicating a useful feature (switching these directional keys for lefties), it seems ridiculous for the letters to be printed onto the keycaps themselves given they’re still just cursor keys.

Between these two boards, it’s tough to discern from a simple online rap sheet what makes one a solid budget-buy, and another a total typing blunder before getting your hands on them. Both offer flashy lighting and either mechanical, or mechanical-feel, switches. Yet at their core, they are far from the same experience. Both boards have generally positive customer reviews, adding even more potential for a purchasing mishap and a disappointed customer.

Enhance GX-K3

Finding a budget board continues to be a battle against a tide of cheap boards, requiring a keen eye for the occasional pearl among the plastic bags and driftwood. Amazon alone contains multiple boards with the same design as the Enhance, among hundreds of others fighting for a space on your desk. The damage these cheap imitators do to the mechanical keyboards rep has surely been cemented in many customers minds, yet there may be a few souls still worth saving.

While it may seem blasphemous to some, non-mechanical boards can offer a lot for your money. The Logitech G213 or Corsair Raptor K30 offer a vast array of features normally reserved for high-end boards, but at much more reasonable price thanks to the lack of clicky switches. High-quality membrane switches easily trounce the exceptionally low-quality mechanical, or ‘mechanical feel’, switches found in many of the cheaper options.

The best advice for any mechanical keyboard purchase, budget or otherwise, is to research beyond the product page. These listings offer little past the usual fare you’ll find on every product page for every budget board going, and customer reviews are often not comparative by nature. A quick google goes a long way, and refining your search to only the bare essentials (ditching the lighting especially) will make your hard-earned cash go much further. As with most products – a deal that seems too good to be true, usually is.